Another example of why you need a criminal defense attorney for a criminal case.

The Maine Law Court decided State v. Robbins, 2012 ME 19, yesterday. The defendant was charged with operating under the influence with 2 prior convictions and operating after suspension. Prior to trial he filed a motion to strike the 2 prior convictions as being unconstitutionally obtained because they were uncounseled priors (obtained without an attorney representing the defendant) and the defendant was not appropriately advised of his right to counsel. If successful this would have made the Class C felony OUI a Class D misdemeanor OUI. The only evidence used by the defendant to support his argument were the docket sheets from the prior convictions which reflected that he appeared without counsel when he entered his guilty pleas. However, these docket sheets were void as to the procedure taken by the prior court to ensure that the constitutional requirements of obtaining convictions without counsel were satisfied.  The trial court never held a hearing on the defendant’s motion to strike the prior convictions and the docket records were the only evidence to decide whether the prior convictions were constitutionally obtained. The Law Court noted that there is a presumption of regularity in court proceedings meaning there is a presumption the prior convictions were constitutionally obtained. The Law Court continued by stating the defendant had the burden of providing the Court with an adequate record upon which the Court could consider the appeal. The Law Court held the defendant failed to provide an adequate record as the docket records alone are insufficient. Therefore the defendant’s appeal was rejected and his conviction for a third offense felony OUI was upheld.

The importance of this decision is to ensure that you retain an attorney who practices solely criminal defense for a criminal case. Who you hire to represent you is one of the most important decision you will make regarding your case. A criminal defense attorney is able to focus solely on the issues presented and is aware of what is required because all they do is criminal defense. By focusing solely on criminal defense a criminal defense attorney is able to stay current on the most recent changes in criminal law and procedure. At the trial level the defendant should have presented evidence such as the transcripts from the prior convictions or if that was unavailable an affidavit from the defendant indicating that he does not recall being advised of his constitutional right to counsel prior to pleading guilty.

I had a case this year where my client was charged with felony domestic violence assault. It was a felony because the prosecution alleged my client had a prior domestic violence assault conviction. The docket record reflected that my client did not have an attorney when he pled guilty to the prior conviction. Therefore, I requested a copy of the audio recording of his plea. From that recording I was able to determine my client was not properly advised of his rights at the time he plead guilty to the prior conviction. I requested a transcript of the proceeding resulting in his prior conviction. Additionally, I drafted a detailed motion to strike the prior conviction. The prosecutor agreed with my argument and the prior conviction was struck. This meant my client went from facing a felony allegation with a possible maximum sentence of 5 years to facing a misdemeanor allegation with a maximum possible sentence of 364 days.

If you had a heart condition you would not hire a foot doctor to treat it. Therefore, if you have a criminal case why would you hire an attorney who practices family law or is a general practitioner. It does not make sense to hire an attorney to represent you on your criminal case that does not practice solely criminal defense. You need to retain an attorney who is dedicated exclusively to criminal defense, i.e., an attorney whose practice is only dedicated to defending criminal cases. Criminal Law is a specialized area of the law that requires an attorney who is willing to stay current on changes in criminal law. A general practitioner, civil lawyer, or family attorney simply does not have the time to stay current on the developments in criminal defense. Hire an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in the law and practice of criminal defense. Retain The Law Office of Robert C. LeBrasseur, PC a law firm solely dedicated to defending individuals accused of committing crimes.

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